Directed by: Gaspar Noé
Distributed by: Utopia
Written by Taylor Baker
What can I say about Gaspar’s latest film “Vortex” that the many others who’ve written and spoken about haven’t already said? The bleakness and wispiness of the Dreyer-esque white saturation in points, the equally haunting blackened silhouette darkness as both Dario Argento’s Lui and Françoise Lebrun’s Elle wander down the hallways of their lifelong home, and thus their life. If you couldn’t observe the influences from Gaspar’s choices as an auteur you surely got them by the crowded study of Dario with books on Godard, Dreyer, Hitchcock, et al on display from dilapidated sideways stacks, bookshelves holding more than a singular line of books, and the heaped stacks on the floor that reach up to Dario’s shoulders as he sat in the chair. All this heaped history and experience itself another of countless references to Dreyer.
Much has been made and rightly so of this as a representation of a new Gaspar, one who has contended with his mortal specter and now must reconcile himself with his art(Eric Kohn wrote a great piece detailing this here.), and while large portions of the intent of such sentiments ring true, as it’s undoubtedly autobiographical–and in a large way a digital gravestone of the auteur provocateur we all know, and some of us love, it seems less like a “new” Gaspar than one expressing himself in a more restrained way but just as exacting on the form and precise in choices, images, sounds, and homages. These are the streets of the Butcher, have no doubt. The years have passed and we’re observing different individuals than we’re typified to in a film by Noé but this is still France. This is the story of an immigrant, getting better, persevering, showing resilience, loving cinema, obsessing over meaning, and as masturbatory as he ever was, it is just more contained, more restrained, and seemingly more mature.
Gaspar lives in the smashing of the toy cars by Kiki on the table, the swirl of shit, pills, and paper in the clogged toilet, the wheezing gasps of Argento’s Lui, the isolation and haunted confusion in Elle’s eyes, and in Stéphane trying to get clean. “Vortex” robs itself of a simple formal examination by its very spirit of duality, keeping you strained between two side by side frames, where despite your best efforts you’ll find yourself focusing on Lui or Elle and sometimes Stéphane and in those moments you wonder what you missed in the other frame, you sense the isolation, the coldness of how each of these lovers feel, but the coldness doesn’t leak through the screen and rub off on the audience instead it builds to those Dreyer saturated fades to white and we’re left walking out the theater doors with a lingering sentiment of truth, possibility, of the future, and the past. We’re left with the difficult sentiments of humanity that we don’t often put to words. “Vortex” sublimates, as it overtly uses Dario to tell us about cinema and dreams and their likening to religious personal experiences that one can have sitting in the dark next to strangers in a cinema, all while Noé exactingly and precisely does the trick Argento told us about.
Due to my own sensibilities and family history, there was no way I wouldn’t enjoy a Gaspar film about aging, reconciling, losing your memories(identity), and juxtaposing perception with two side by side images that underline intimacy and loneliness, especially when you toss in Françoise Hardy’s Mon amie la rose and two pieces by Ennio Morricone themes. As I forewarned there’s not much I could say that others haven’t already. “Vortex” is as apt a film as ever to remind you, to view it and decide for yourself.
“All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream.”Dario Argento’s Lui, quoting Edgar Allen Poe